History and Origin
The African Violet, of the genus Saintpaulia, originates in eastern tropical Africa, in Tanzania and Kenya. While the genus Saintpaulia once boasted 60 species, later work determined this was a result of poor differentiation and the number was reduced to six, with many different sub-species. It received its common name of African violet as a result of the location in which it naturally grows, but also because the flower itself bears a striking resemblance to the true violet. It is not uncommon to see the African violet grown indoors or outdoors, being a flower which is relatively easy to maintain and is pleasing to the eye.
The most common way for African Violets to be propagated is via the leaf. This method of propagation is very rare among flowers and is one of the more unique aspects of growing this particular flower. In order to effectively reproduce more African violets for your home, garden, or for sale, you must take a leaf from the plant. This leaf should be taken from the middle ranks, as the flowers far from the center are too old and weak to produce much yield, while those nearest the plant are still too immature to do the trick. While old and young leaves may be able to produce flowers, their yield will be much lower than those of mature (but not too mature) age.
Like most varieties of flowers, the African violet will produce seeds, but the cultivation of these seeds for the purpose of growing more flowers is not the recommended method (see above). This is not because the seeds will not produce more African violets, but because the purpose of propagation of African violets is to produce replicas of the parent plant, and this cannot be guaranteed using the seed. While seed propagation is not without its uses, namely the creation of new hybrid plants, it is not recommended for the person looking to make identical flowers generation to generation.
Tips and Tricks
African violets need about 10-12 hours of bright light a day to develop their signature bloom. This should not be direct sunlight; however, as too much light will cause the violet to shed its bloom early. Not every flower is alike, and it is important to note the quality and duration of the bloom as you determine the correct duration and intensity of the light. What makes African violets such good plants to grow indoors is that they grow best in artificial light. Keeping them near windows will produce asymmetrical plants while growing them under artificial light will produce both the right intensity and since the duration of light is determined by the flipping of a switch, duration.
Concerning watering, the rules for most flowers apply. Do not over water. Ensure the right frequency of watering by, when you’re wondering if the plant should be watered, sticking your finger in the soil. If the water is damp and clings to your finger, the plant should not be watered. If it does not stick, water the plant with room temperature water from the bottom.
Another reason African violets are such a coveted indoor plant is that they are rather picky concerning their environment. They thrive in high humidity, surrounded by warm, gently moving air. They tend to decrease in quality and duration of life if they are exposed to regular drafts, so they should be kept away from doors. Also, they should, at all costs, be kept from cold air. The gardener will begin to notice curled, brittle leaves should the temperature dip below 60 degrees Fahrenheit.
The first thing to consider while potting is that African violets thrive in saucers as opposed to flower pots. This is because typical flower pots are too deep for the African violet. There are specific African violet pots for sale, but the most important thing to consider when buying a pot is that it has at least one hole at the bottom for draining. Plastic or clay makes no difference other than the frequency with which the flower will need to be watered. Since unglazed flower pots (glazed pots should be treated as you would treat a plastic one) allow for water to evaporate through the clay, plants grown in this variety will need more frequent watering.
Societies and Resources
The African Violet Society of America Inc.
Upper Pinellas African Violet Society
Albuquerque African Violet Club
Caring for African Violets
African Violets Production Guide
Clemson University Cooperative Extension: African Violet
Growing African Violets
African Violets: Seven Steps to Success